Lonzo Ball might have finished his 24 minutes of playing time Friday without a steal, but he was disruptive anyway, getting his hands on passes that made the Golden State Warriors have to work just a little bit harder on offense.
Last season, the Lakers point guard showed some aptitude in that part of his game. It was on defense that his best contributions came as a rookie.
He expects that to continue this season.
“I think I’m one of the best defenders on the team,” Ball said. “So when you’re guarding some other team’s best players, especially if they are guards, just try to make their jobs as hard as I can.”
That’s no easy task in the NBA, and at times the Lakers helped Ball by having other defenders switch onto some of the league’s elite point guards. But Ball held his own as the season progressed. He averaged 1.7 steals a game, ninth in the NBA among guards who played in at least 30 games.
With his long arms and a 6-foot-5 frame, Ball has the physical makings of a strong defensive player. The size he added during the summer — Ball says he gained about 20 pounds and has a much larger upper body — should help.
“He is big on versatility and switching lineups,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He has great instincts and deflections. All the things that we harp on every day and what we want to do as a defensive unit. As far as doing that as a rookie, surprised me. It is a tough position to play, but we knew early on he was going to be able to cause the turnovers for us and guard multiple positions. It was good to see while he was healthy that he was able to maintain that.”
By the end of Friday’s game, the Lakers on the bench were laughing, cheering and shouting together for the group of young players on the court as they closed out a 119-105 victory in the team’s final preseason game.
Those players included the team’s most critical players this season, and they are starting to become closer.
It helped that they took a four-day trip last week. With two days each in Las Vegas and San Jose, the Lakers got to engage in the kind of bonding that normally happens when training camp s in an exotic location.
“Going to team dinners, hanging out outside of practice,” Kyle Kuzma said. “Did that a lot this road trip. Chemistry is coming. You want to see that early on so we have in April and May when it matters.”
The Lakers waived Scott Machado and Jonathan Williams III on Saturday with the hopes of adding both players to their developmental team, the South Bay Lakers. They must clear waivers in order for the Lakers to have the opportunity to sign them again.
The Lakers now have 14 players on their roster plus two players on two-way contracts. Those two, Alex Caruso and Travis Wear, may spend up to 45 days with the Lakers and then must stay with the South Bay Lakers.
Williams, a forward, is from Memphis and played college basketball at Missouri and Gonzaga. He spent all of training camp with the Lakers and had a strong showing Friday against the Warriors. He had 14 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes, with one assist and one turnover.